Everything you need to know about the 2018 World Tour opener
Words - James Raison Images - Tour Down Under / Regallo
Australia’s premiere bike race is back with an unchanged format in 2018: a Sunday prologue around the city before 6 road stages running Tuesday through Sunday. Stages are still around 130-150 km with a mix of sprints and punchy climbs. It’s a formula made in consultation with the team to suit their riders’ early season training.
There's 5 well-worn stages made of elements we've seen before but stage 4 looks like a cracker. We’re flippin excited. Here’s everything you need to know.
The pre-race sprinters prologue is again a 50 km flog around the eastern parklands on the fringe of Adelaide's CBD. The racing is a bit of fun but the food trucks are our personal highlight. It tends to be a race marked by ambitious breakaways as international riders turn their first pedals in anger and the Aussies, fresh off national championships, try to grab some spotlight.
We spent the entire time in 2017 Sagan spotting. It was glorious. Caleb Ewan blitzed the sprint in 2017 but the presence of Andre Greipel and our Lord Sagan should give him plenty of competition. The slightly downhill run to the line should favour the more powerful sprinters.
Stage 1 - Port Adelaide to Lyndoch - 145 km
It’s a sprint stage for the first UCI World Tour points runs from Port Adelaide to Lyndoch. 2018 sees a slight adaptation of Stage 1 from last year with an undulating roll before 3 circuits finishing in Lyndoch. It’s traditionally sweltering, windy, and a hotly contested bunch sprint.
There’s always some aggression early on as riders fight for the KOM points and representation on the podium at the end of the day. Hard to imagine anyone other than Caleb Ewan taking this one. The Aussie - hot off national championships - has won the last 2 finishes here. But the with the leader's jersey up for grabs and the teams looking to sharpen up their sprint train, he won't have it easily.
Stage 2 - Unley to Stirling - 148.6 km
Stage 2 rolls from Unley before zipping through the CBD centre and hitting the hills North East of the city. From there it winds through Lobethal, Woodside and Balhannnah before the now-traditional 3-laps around Stirling.
This is always an exciting stage as the long up-hill drag spits riders out the back and reduces the pack at the front. It usually favours your more balanced climbers with a decent sprint like Simon Gerrans, Diego Ulissi, or Jay McCarthy. Previous editions have seen some loose and sketchy riding from the bunch as riders are forced to jostle for position on the narrow drag up the the finish line. The pace is furious those still finding form early in the season will be strewn across the course.
Sure, we’ve seen this format a few times before but it’s fantastic to spectate and makes for some great racing. That whole area is chock-full of killer cycling roads and more fancy cafes than you can point your bidon at.
Stage 3 - Glenelg to Victor Harbor 146.5 km
Speaking of stages we’ve seen before - Stage 3 starts in Glenelg and heads along the coast to Victor Harbor. This time there’s a bit more interest in the middle though as the TDU sends its riders up Penny’s Hill (Strava segment), most well known as the 100 kph descent on the Willunga Hill Stage 5. That climb is far too early to break up the race so this is an almost certain sprint finish after some laps around Victor Harbour.
It’s not an easy run to the flag though with plenty of corners suiting a sprinter with good positioning. Andre Greipel has won here 3 times before and Simon Gerrans pulled out an extraordinary sprint win in 2016. Ewan took the honours last year and has to favourite again looking to 2018.
Stage 4 - Norwood to Uraidla - 128.2 km
Now you’re talking! While I was getting a little bored of stages we’ve seen (often multiple) times before, Stage 4 looks genuinely exciting. It’s an absolute cracker for anyone doing the BUPA Challenge Tour fondo as well.
It starts by winding its way up the beautiful Gorge Road before running through Gumeracha, Birdwood, Mt Pleasant, Mt Torrens, Lobethal, and Lenswood before cutting back across to Gorge Road again. The storming descent is followed by a climb up Adelaide’s most popular climb, Norton Summit (Strava segment) before hitting the punchy Woods Hill Road. The stage finish is slightly downhill in Uraidla.
Norton Summit isn’t steep enough for a sorting of the climbers but the stretch from Woods Hill to Uraidla should certainly see some gaps. There's some double-digit gradient punches that could open some splits in the group. It's a downhill drop into Uraidla and the finish line so anyone looking to spoil it for the sprinters will need a decent gap. This really is a potential Sagan stage as the Slovakian stallion has the climbing chops to stay ahead of the pure sprinters. I’m already looking forward to this one!
BUPA fondo riders are in for a real treat. These are some of the best roads in South Australia.
Stage 5 - McLaren Vale to Willunga Hill - 151.5 km
The stage that usually decides the race is unchanged from previous years. Starting in McLaren Vale it winds its way through beautiful seaside locales of Port WIllunga and Aldinga before heading up Willunga Hill twice. Richie Porte is imperious on this stage and has dominated it the last 3 years.
There’s always a threat of disruptor teams blowing the race apart in the cross-winds but we’re yet to see it happen.
For fans, this is the traditional pilgrimage from Adelaide to Willunga. Crowds are thick, and very shouty on the hill as the peloton thins out to just the GC contenders. It's brilliant fun riding out there, getting burnt to a crisp on the roadside, and then rolling back dehydrated and faceplanting into some food in the city.
Stage 6 - Adelaide - 90 km
The final stage is unchanged from 2017, 20 laps of a 4.5 km circuit through the centre of the CBD. Technically the race is still up-for-grabs but there’s not been any meaningful changes in race positions on this final stage. For GC contenders it’s a case of not crashing before the sprinters duke it out on the flying slightly downhill finish.
Given Ewan’s dominance here over the last couple of editions it would be a surprise to see anyone else take the stage.
We can't wait to see you there in January 2018!